Every year, the US land conservation community meets at the “Land Trust Alliance Rally – the National Land Conservation Conference”. About 1,500 people from hundreds of organisations come together to learn, connect, and recharge. Among them: a growing number of international participants. At this year’s Rally in New Orleans, our LIFE project “European Networks for Private Land Conservation” (LIFE ENPLC) sent Anne-Sophie Mulier of the European Landowners Organization (ELO), Carolina Halevy of Eurosite and Tilmann Disselhoff of NABU to represent the European side of private land conservation at Rally. We have three stories to share. Read the second one here.
The invitation to the Land Trust Alliance Rally was an exciting moment for me. Everyone who had been there before raved about this event. When looking at the programme and selecting the sessions I wanted to join I thought I understood the enthusiasm. The programme provided a broad range of subjects presented by experts in the field. I selected some sessions on conservation easements, carbon credits and storytelling. I thought great, those are key topics I am working on, I am looking forward to learning from these experts.
Cypress trees nursery to strenghten New Orleans natural flood defence
Mountains of oyster shells collected to restore eroding coastlines
Looking back at the sessions, they were certainly valuable, but not what I had imagined. Reflecting on the content, the questions I had been looking for did not get addressed. The sessions did not necessarily reflect my level of understanding of the topic either. For that, I would probably be more successful looking online for the information I need. The internet is a great resource of peer reviewed knowledge that I can search tailored to my personal needs.
However, I soon understood that the technical content of the session is not what the event is about. I joined Eurosite during Covid and thus far have never worked in a traditional office setting. Although the pandemic has subsided, Eurosite has decided to stay fully virtual, which I think is why in-person meetings really stand out to me.
I was finally able to meet colleagues who I am usually only connected to online. Some of them really surprised me. Someone who hardly ever speaks online may be super bubbly in person. The high-level expert who intimidated me online turned out to have a great sense of humour when we chatted during a shared meal. I feel like you get to know people on a different level once you have met them in 3D. The event was a great chance to meet most of my international colleagues at once.
The steering committee of the International Land Conservation Network including some guests, like myself
Moreover, you never get the “in between talks” in virtual meetings or through online research. In my experience, people are usually much more open in person and off the spotlight when talking about issues or problems they encountered. Someone may be presenting the great success of an initiative to the group, but then you get someone else whispering in your ear how much they have struggled with corruption and resistance throughout the process. There is so much value in hearing experiences of people that usually do not get written down. The US is much more advanced on the topic of conservation easements, so these comments are highly valuable to hear.
I also picked up some ideas that I would not have thought to look up myself. Some of the organisational elements of the event stood out to me, and I will take those back home. For example, each participant could add banners to their name tag. A simple idea yet great communication starter. Mine identified me as first-time Rally visitor and as an international from outside the US.
I understand now why everyone gets excited about this event. It was exciting for me too – just not for the reasons I had initially thought.
My name badge for the conference